New England Yankee Democracy at work
The annual Financial Town Meeting held this past Monday evening at the Lawn Avenue School reflected our current national mood. The economic downturn has left people reeling. Taxpayers are tired of bailing out banks and big business while watching as their oceans are polluted beyond measure. Jobs have vanished. It seems that we’ve socialized the risks and privatized the profits.
People are frustrated with government. Our taxes don’t even begin to cover the state and national debts. We’re awash in a sea of red ink.
But the one thing we have here in Jamestown that we don’t have at the state and national levels is the simple fact that we are paying our own way. The Town of Jamestown is in the black. The public employee pensions are nearly fully funded and we are far from operating at a deficit.
Maybe we should consider becoming the State of Jamestown?
Many letter writers pointed out in last week’s Press that we’ve enjoyed good, responsible government in Jamestown. There are those who argue that the FTM is an anachronism and is no longer needed. I beg to differ. Monday’s FTM was a much-needed venting for voters. Democracy prevailed.
Bucky Caswell at the Jamestown Fire Department recalls the financial meetings that Jamestown held in the late 1940s. Caswell was a teenager at the time. Only taxpayers were allowed to attend those meetings. Voters would meet for most of the day, instead of a few evening hours, to approve the budget for the coming year.
In those days, the “hundred or so” voters would review the town’s spending, line item by line item. Then, they would review and vote on each line item of the proposed town and school budgets. Every town employee and school employee salary was voted on.
It was a painfully slow process.
The discussions became heated at times. Bucky recalls one year when the voters argued for two hours over whether to spend $250 on treating the island’s majestic elms for Dutch Elm Disease – and the money was funded by the state! Sadly, the elms all died nationwide – even if they received treatment.
Sixty-some years later, we are still conducting town business according to our New England heritage. As Caswell pointed out, we now vote on the budget as a whole, but we still get the chance to speak our minds.
That’s one Yankee tradition that I don’t want to lose.
– Jeff McDonough